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Welcome to the Guitar Lessons Pro Articles.

This week L.Morgan.H. gives us some biographical background on the always soulful blues great Muddy Waters.


Muddy Waters - A Biographical Sketch

By L.Morgan.H.


Question: Which blues singer-guitarist went from the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta to Chicago's south side and in the process altered the sounds of the blues guitar forever?
Answer: McKinley Morganfield - better known as - Muddy Waters.

Muddy Waters was born in the tiny hamlet of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, on April 4, 1915. After the death of his mother at age three, he was raised by his maternal grandmother, 100 miles north, near Clarksdale. Muddy had limited formal schooling and was working in the cotton fields as soon as he was able to use a hoe and chop cotton. Music was used to keep rhythm in the fields and also served to raise the spirits of those working in the extremely hot and humid conditions of the Delta. Muddy got his first musical instrument, a harmonica at age 13. He taught himself to play it with inspiration coming from the many fine musicians in and around the Clarksdale area. Four years later Muddy made the switch to guitar and was influenced heavily by the tradition of great Delta blues guitarist/singers before him. A few included Charley Patton, Son House, Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson. Muddy was especially fond of the slide work of both Son House and Robert Johnson. Muddy honed his skills in the Delta playing juke joints, house parties, picnics and other rural get togethers. His booming voice and soulful slide guitar carried folks away from the grind of raising cotton to a world of love, laughter and lament.

In 1943 Muddy Waters moved to Chicago and put the Delta behind him forever. The sound of the blues were changing - from the agrarian country based acoustic blues of the Delta to a more raw and urban aggressiveness. A new sound that reflected life in the industrial north. Life in the busy urban African American districts of Chicago's south side and Detroit. Muddy helped forge the new music and changed the sound of the blues guitar forever with the 1947 release of "I Can't Be Satisfied / I Feel Like Going Home ". The song was a huge hit on local label Aristocrat Records owned by the soon to be famous Phil and Leonard Chess. Now the African Americans who had moved to the great northern centers of industry had a music to reflect their daily experiences. The sound Waters and his bandmates projected was loud, vibrant and exciting. This new amplified version of the blues allowed an ensemble to play larger gigs without losing the nuance of each guitar lick and the emotion of every vocal wail and moan. Over the top of the electric instruments, Waters dark hued voice chanted the Mississippi blues of his childhood.

This new blend of styles and instruments helped lay the foundation for what would soon become rock and roll. For some of Muddy's most exciting work listen to "Rolling Stone", "Rollin and Tumblin", "Honey Bee", "Baby, Please Don't Go" or "Smokestack Lightnin'". In these songs can be heard echoes of Robert Johnson's songs like "Walkin Blues" but what is even more amazing, one can also hear in Muddy's music the foundations for songs like Jimi Hendrix "Voodoo Child" and Led Zepplin's "Bring It On Home" or "You Shook Me".

Muddy Waters was the right man in the right place and he surrounded himself with other great musicians. Some of Waters best songs included the work of Jimmy Rogers on 2nd guitar, pianist Otis Span or Pine Top Perkins, bassist - legend Willie Dixon, and harmonica work by Little Walter and James Cotton. If you really want to know more about the blues, do yourself a favor and put Muddy Waters on your must do listening list.... You won't be sorry.

This biography by L.Morgan.H. and contains excerpts from a story by Pete Welding in the book "Bluesland, Portraits of Twelve Major Blues Masters," edited by Pete Welding and Tony Byron.

L.Morgan.H. lives near Orlando, Florida and has played and studied the blues guitar for over 20 years. He lives with his cat Squeaky and enjoys listening to and playing music from the heart.

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